One of my hobbies is reading and listening to audiobooks as well as playing the occasional game. To add some variety to the site I decided to start listing the books I read each year and provide mini reviews. This is mostly exercise to help me remember more of what I read, improve writing, and to spend a bit more time thinking critically about the media I consume. This year I’ll be including some of the games that I play as well since they can be as compelling a form of storytelling as any.
I’ll update this post throughout the year as I continue reading. I’d love to get some books recommended by anyone reading this or to discuss your thoughts on any of the books listed. So, please comment if you want! Here are links for past book posts; last year I managed 32, hoping for more this year!
New entries will show up after this line. The newest books will be on the top so if you have seen this article before, whatever is on top is most recent! SPOILERS OF ALL KINDS BELOW! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
** April 2021 Update – I’m going to include recently finished notable TV shows on occasion just for the sake of…I’m not really sure why? Just tracking for now.
Children of Time
Adrian Tchaikovsky | Science Fiction | 2015
Foundation and Earth
Issac Asimov | Science Fiction | 1986
Issac Asimov | Science Fiction | 1982
Issac Asimov | Science Fiction | 1953
Foundation and Empire
Issac Asimov | Science Fiction | 1952
Issac Asimov | Science Fiction | 1942
Death Comes for the Archbishop
Willa Cather | Historical Fiction | 1927
The Return of the King
J.R.R Tolkein | Fantasy |1955
The Two Towers
J.R.R Tolkein | Fantasy |1954
The Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R Tolkein | Fantasy |1954
Where the Crawdads Sing
Delia Owens | Literary Fiction | 2018
Andy Weir | Sci-fi | 2017
Artemis tells the story of ‘Jazz’ who is a resident on a Moon colony set in the relatively near future. It’s a fun reasonably exciting story which is a bit mystery and a bit action story. It felt well researched while still being easy to read fiction, the characters were fun, the dialogue flowed pretty easily and the lunar environment made it feel fresh.
The story was hard to predict and unfolded at a great rate and everything brought up seemed to serve a purpose throughout. Overall, I really liked the book and if The Martian (also by Andy Weir) was anything like this, I can see why they made a movie based on the book!
The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne | Novel | 1850
I was supposed to read this in highschool but I’m not actually sure if I did. So this was making up for that and also looking at it from the point of view of not being in highschool as well as the recent controversies going on in Texas where they have essentially banned abortions.
On the whole, I found it a little bit hard to get engaged – most puritan setting things seem to be a challenge for me – but I worked through it. It brought up some interesting themes around adultery, inconsistent social responses to it, ostracizing members in society and the secondary effects, finding meaning or value in suffering, and an exploration of how to be ‘good’ in an imperfect world.
The Rose Code
Kate Quinn | Historical Fiction | 2021
This is a great book and reminded me a lot of Code Girls by Liza Mundy except with more ‘story’ parts and less detailed code-breaking history of WW2. I ended up reading this because a friend mentioned they had picked it up and I mistook it for another book which I said was very good. Apart from the obvious embarrassment if asked about it and having no idea what they were talking about I also wanted to make sure this wasn’t a horrible book which would cause them to severely question my standards for writing. I’m glad I mistook this book for another in that conversation because it resulted in me reading The Rose Code.
The story follows 3 women – partly to significantly based on historical figures – in the UK during ~1939-1948 or so and tells the story of Bletchley Park, its secret role in the war, and about the critical work done there, often by women. The protagonists are brought together from very different backgrounds and go though many significant experiences which strain and occasionally break their friendships.
Overall, I would recommend this book to a few different audiences – anyone who likes historical fiction or WW2 history, anyone who likes code-breaking and spy-type writings, anyone looking for a book with compelling female protagonists, and for anyone who likes a good novel with some drama and mystery. Some parts of it fell pretty flat for me – the ‘Mab’ character in particular would sometimes break the immersion, for instance – but on the whole I really enjoyed this book!
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn | Short Novel | 1962
So this is an influential book which I had heard about – it was published in 1960s Soviet Union and the world was pretty shocked to see it was allowed to be published. The theory seems to be that it was allowed to be published to ‘criticize’ some of the Stalin-centric thinking in the Soviet Union but wasn’t meant to tarnish the ‘Soviet’ ideal. I’m bad at history and politics though so that may be completely my misunderstanding.
Regardless of how it was published, I want to talk about what it said. The novel tells the story of Ivan Denisovich who was a Russian POW kept in Germany during the war. On his release and return to Russia he was accused of being a German spy and sentenced to many years in a Siberian gulag. This labor camp was, as expected, under-resourced, cold, and questionably run. The story tells what a ‘day’ in the life at that camp was like.
Unlike Man’s Search for Meaning or Night or others I’ve reviewed here, this story doesn’t show the horrific climax of human suffering in a place like Auschwitz but instead covers a terrible sounding day where the horror lies not in brutal tortures, gassing, and complete disregard for ones dignity but rather in the dull repetition of hard, unrewarding, long days where you simply try not to get thrown in a cell where you might die if the weather turns too much or hoping for that extra small piece of bread or small bit of soup. The despair is in the looming possibility that even if you make it your 10-year sentence you may simply be sent back when you should be set free.
This was a good read for many reasons but for me the ‘struggle to make it another day’, the profundity of the tiniest things which could make one’s day better, and the way it tells the story of a suffering which, while not as extreme and horrific as concentration camps, is less acknowledged because of it. Life in that world or those circumstances sounds like hell & with the abundance of tragedy in today’s world it’s good to be reminded of what humans can thoughtlessly subject others to and how a tiny bit of dignity can go a long way.
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin | Biography & Memoir | 1793
Since I had read Walter Issacson’s phenomenal and well researched biography of Franklin earlier this year I figured I would read his own account as well. It was a fun read which was mostly interesting – especially when trying to understand the purpose of including the stories and anecdotes from his life which he choose – but also a bit dry or pedantic at times. Would definitely recommend it as it is shorter than Issacson’s account and there is a lot of overlapping themes; definitely seems worth most of the reputation it has accumulated over the years. The end is definitely weaker than the beginning in my opinion but overall still interesting.
Herman Hesse | Historical Fiction| 1922
I read this book back in high school and vaguely recalled enjoying it, I’m glad I re-read it. If your familiar with the ‘Buddha’ story there will be a ton of parallels (Buddha even is a notable character in the story) but this will add some more human and Western elements than the traditional story of striving to reach Nirvana and escape the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
Hesse writes a very compelling story which seems to do justice to some of the Eastern traditions referenced but also highlights some of the challenges to attaining spiritual fulfillment. It also highlights some of the apparent contradictions of enlightenment and separating oneself from desires, etc. I think it’s a very thought provoking yet condense novel which is worth reading for most people. I know the way I interpreted it in highschool versus now is way different and I think revisiting it in another 10-20 years would trigger further interesting questions of values, faith, and other deeper topics.
The Fencing Master
Arturo Pérez-Reverte | Fiction (Historical) | 1988
A nice short story about a fencing master in the ~1860s living in Madrid. Arturo tells a fun mystery story with a few solid characters and a fun setting. The protagonists quirky/simple way of life is seen as an interesting anachronism in the society of the day and offers an interesting contrast to the more superficial friends/contacts he has. There are some mysterious characters, secrets from the past and some rapid fire action and murder over last two chapters which helps take the book to a fun conclusion. The author also writes about fencing in a way that, even for an idiot like myself it is compelling and interesting.
My biggest qualm with this book was the ‘love story’. The interactions felt terrible; way over-the-top ‘and their eyes met’ and other exaggerated romantic sentiments which felt amateurish. It also was overwhelmingly dominant in all interactions with the characters and just felt trite. That and a bit of a predictable (for the most part) plot led me to not give this a really high rating, but it was enjoyable and solid nonetheless.
Stargate Atlantis && Stargate Universe
Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch to say I watched these. I had them on as background while working on other projects, playing piano, things like that. I won’t go in to much detail bc I can’t provide much to be perfectly honest but Atlantis was better than I remembered as a kid, especially in the 2-4 season area. Ended real bad though. Universe was pretty mediocre at best throughout; way too much focus on characters and drama versus anything interesting or even common-sense activities. Also pretty crap ending.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams
Philip K. Dick | Sci-fi – Short Stories | Various (compiled in 2017)
This book is a collection of 10 short stories with an intro by 10 different contemporary tv writers. I think it was also turned in to a TV series. The short stories are widely varied an cover everything from dystopian futures with AI run amok, wild alien invasions, vanishing cities and more. I have not really read much by Philip K. Dick before but these were really refreshing and I’m definitely planning to read more after these. I think my favorite part in these was the clarity of the writing, it felt very minimalist but not sparse; only elements essential for the story are included but the few elements included are rich and build a great world. More to come after I pick up another short story collection!
The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works
TTC Lecture Series – Robert Greenberg | 2011
This was a really enjoyable lecture series. Each lecture covered a significantly influential work starting with Vivaldi and ending with music of the mid 20th century. Robert is a phenomenal lecturer and adds more color than most lecturers which I personally found refreshing and enjoyable.
The descriptions of each work were clean and consistent covering the form, notable features, melodic/harmonic/rhythmic elements which define the piece or were notable for the time. Along with the description of the orchestral work and phenomenal samples of the pieces Robert also gives us context about the composer – how did they start, how did the piece come about, how were they received, and often how did they die. The delivery of this information was largely concise, well organized, and memorable.
Would recommend this lecture series to anyone who likes classical music and it requires virtually no prior knowledge. I would strongly encourage anyone who does do the course to listen to the work in full after each chapter!
The Devil in the White City
By Eric Lawson | Historical Non-fiction | 2003
I thought this was a fantastic book. A coworker recommended it to me and I’m glad I went with it. The book tells two stories – One of the crazy circumstances and activities which led to and went through the Chicago worlds fair in 1896 and the story of America’s first ‘serial killer’ H. H. Holmes and his Murder Hotel which was near the same location as the fair.
The author extensively researched both Holmes and the fair and the many people involved in setting up and building it. Eric, sometimes jarringly, takes the reader between the two stories but each story is so immersive and rich that it feels natural. There are some fantastic reveals which happen because of the style of story telling and I felt it read as immersive as good fiction as opposed to the non-fiction it is. Definitely recommend this book, possibly my favorite book of the year so far!
Master and Margarita
By Mikhail Bulgakov | Magical Realism/Fantasy/Satire| Written ~1938; Published 1966
This was my second time reading Master and Margarita and I have come to enjoy it far more. The first time through I was just reading it to read it and blazed through it without much thought. This time through I read the wiki, familiarized myself with more of the places and thought about whatever it was Bulgakov might have been trying to say.
For me, while not a ‘top book’ I’ve read in most senses (I do thing the writing and style are definitely in that highest tier) it is one of the most enjoyable ‘classics’ I’ve read. There is a ton about the social context – poking fun at the Soviet Union’s high-minded skepticism, hyperbolic reactions to silly things, a commentary on the censorship of thought as well as of literature, even to the point where the book appears to bring up awareness of its own censorship – but I think the biggest appeal is the feeling that you’re floating through this period of grand life in Moscow with quirky yet fun or dangerous characters.
The characters are vibrant with over-the-top personalities and the pace of the novel forces you to just go along with whatever weird twists and turns the story brings. The dialogue is likewise top-notch (as well as the voice acting in the Audible version I listened to) and each character feels well developed but also ‘unique’ in the sense that I don’t think I could say most of the character are ‘like’ characters from any other books I’ve read.
Overall, it’s not a trivial read and you should familiarize with the context and setting before reading but the effort, for me, was more than worth it as I enjoyed so much more of the story & description than I did a few years ago my first time through.
TV Show | Sci-Fi | 1999-2003
Farscape was a fun TV show for the sci-fi space operate genre it was. It is a bit dated but they had some really phenomenal episodes throughout. It simultaneously was more ‘comedy’ than most sci-fi I’ve seen (Star Trek, BSG, B5, etc.) but also managed to have some episodes with very intense heavy topics – extreme grief, legitimate moral issues, real sexual or expression types of issues as opposed to some undertone of ‘oh this might almost sound like slavery’. I feel like it crossed lines most Sci-Fi or TV shows in general normally wouldn’t, especially for its time.
There were a healthy share of bad episodes or committing to things too hard – taking a joke way past its funny life trying to hard to flip a trope on its head – but on the whole I would say this was a very solid series and I would rank it among the more interesting sci-fi series out there. Crackers don’t matter is one of the craziest and most interesting episodes of anything I’ve ever seen.
The Innocence of Father Brown
By G. K. Chesterton | Mystery/Detective | 1910
This is my second book from G. K. Chesterton. While the first was more philosophical & rhetorically polished it was also a bit dated, dry, and heavy at times; The Innocence of Father Brown, however felt moderately light and like a religious and slightly less exciting version of Sherlock Holmes. I found the notion of a ‘priest detective’ to be pretty enjoyable and some of the dialogue was pretty good; the crimes/descriptions were quite varied & it seemed to do a good job providing hints but not being guessable.
My biggest criticism was that they all seemed so short & clean — there were ~10 or so detective stories in this book — that it made it hard to get immersed. The protagonist also seemed a bit detached; it wasn’t that he was hired on to solve a crime or ‘save’ physical lives, it was more of him there as a commentary about how man can fall to evil and how clear thinking can help uncover it; also an implied understanding of evil which comes with being virtuous & devout.
If I gave it a score out of 10 it would be between a 6 and 6.5 I think; decent stories, pretty good writing, interesting situations/scenarios but slightly bland characters, rushed solutions, and it only on rare occasion pulled me in to ‘care’ about the answer to the mystery.
What’s Wrong with the World
By G.K.Chesterton | Social Commentary | 1910
My opinions on this book are quite torn. I have never read anything by Chesterton before so this was also my introduction to his works. What’s Wong with the World is a lay commentary on what appears to be wrong with the world & potential ways to address it. It approaches topics such as women’s right to vote, the apparent fracture of the family, the failure of the school system, the conflicting ideals of capitalism and socialism and how we all seem to agree on the ‘problems’ these days but not the solution. Throughout it uses paradox and artful hypothetical to drive the message home. Most impressively, despite being ~110 years old, it offers a critique of society which, if the language were updated, doesn’t feel out of place today. Perhaps more rare than that is the fact that it’s not written with the normal ‘political’ baggage of today’s writing; it’s largely optimistic that the issues are surmountable and even that there are multiple solutions which can get us there.
What I disliked. It is a bit dated, there is language around women’s issues which are purely from the past and his speculations on it completely off the mark. The use of general statements as a source of ‘fact’ to base arguments on. The appeal to religion/life of Jesus as an occasional point of reference.
What I liked. The writing is terrific. I get the feeling Chesterton would have been at home debating anyone and it’s clear that he appears to value consistency, logic, and not getting caught up in the abstract, this was fun to read and a refreshing tone. The topics also seemed on the mark for the most part, even some of the women’s rights issues – while triggering an initial reaction of “oh my god you can’t say stuff like that!” – are often followed by sincere and beautifully crafted defenses of why generalizing in skills to support the family is a higher calling than anything else, etc. His writing skills are tremendous even if some of his ideas are off-base from what we see in retrospect as obviously right.
This is a moderately ‘religious’ book, there’s a lot of Catholic & Christian remarks but I think a lot of the discourse holds up with out particular subscription to higher ideals or things like that, I think the ‘base’ of a lot of the reason might be a lot weaker if there is no notion of a God at some level.
Either way, this was really interesting to read, I loved the writing style, the motivation, the articulation and structure of the book but it was also a bit dated and not easy to get ‘immersed’ into unless just enjoying the way the sentences and words line up. I think I’ll read more Chesterton in the future to understand him more.
Domes of Fire
By David & Leah Eddings | Fantasy | 1992
I remember reading the Belgarian and Mallorean series by David Eddings as a kid and then again a few years ago, they felt like clean fantasy stories with narrow but enjoyable characters. This book, Domes of Fire, is a new world from the series mentioned previously and it seems to be a bit more complex than the others. The characters had some more depth and the world was a bit less ‘pure’/rigorously structured than how I perceived the others.
That being said, I don’t think I’ll read the follow-ups in this world too much of the writing felt similar – which is a curse even of good fantasy, I might have tremendously enjoyed his other works but I don’t think I’d recommend them to someone who has already read more than one other series like LOTR as they feel more like introductions to the genre. The story was fine but the dialogue seemed overly stiff sometimes, the world was well made but the descriptions also seemed a bit forced. Another minor pet-peeve of mine is there’s a lot of gods in this one and they’re somewhere between human magician and omnicient but with limited ‘potency’ to control major events, etc. Something about those personal and powerful but flakey and sometimes powerless deities is rarely appealing to me.
If you really liked his other works, this should be a refreshing new world with a lot of what the Eddings bring to the table. If you’re brand new to fantasy this is probably a good read as well, not as dark as some of the other modern options out there (though I’d probably point you to Michael Sullivan’s works!) like Brandon Sanderson and others which feel like more ‘mature’ and ‘messy’ fantasy.
TV Show | Crime/Detective Fantasy | 2014-2021
A fun crime solving/detective show with a twist. Nothing particularly special to me, I think after Supernatural it was interesting to see this twist on the supernatural topic, there were some small homages to Supernatural. Acting seemed pretty good with occasionally strong moments, the pacing seemed good and they actually managed to keep a ‘secret identity’ between main characters a secret even through the finale which was pretty cool to see. Theme’s seemed alright, occasionally a bit witty, decent show if you like detective shows. Probably the perfect fit if you really like Castle and Supernatural or the X-Files.
By Michael Sullivan| Fantasy | 2021
This is the first book of the 3rd or 4th series I’ve read by Michael Sullivan. I come back to his work for a few reasons. First, he publishes one book a year on an awesome schedule, the writing in often extremely clean and has a good mix of standard fantasy tropes and his own new ideas and contributions. Further, he appears to have worked out a really solid way to self-publish and produce in a way which I think gives more power to the author which makes me think his writing is more ‘his own’ than it might otherwise have been.
Nolyn fits between his two main series (Legends of the First Emyre & Ryria Revelations, I think?) and is the first in a trilogy which follows important characters in the history of that world over a several-thousand year time period. Some things I like – it speaks to how myths might have formed (in reality and in fiction); the events of the past being filtered and subtly changed which has some things to remembered accurately, others changed, and others forgotten or irretrievably corrupted. It is also a bit refreshing to have a series which isn’t day-to-day activities of heroes over a few directly connected book but rather 3 ‘important events or times in history’ which shape a civilization.
The story itself is pretty good, solid characters and good dialogue, nothing really put me off too strongly apart from a few characters’ stubbornness. It fits with the other series in the world he created and you can definite feel that the history/culture of that world solidify and make more sense as he writes more in it.
Overall I think this is a solid fantasy book and could likely be read as a standalone – though you will pick up much more from it if you’ve read his other works. Would recommend to fantasy fans or people who are looking to see if fantasy might be their cup of tea.
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
By Walter Isaacson | Biography | 2003
Outstanding book. I knew a little about Ben Franklin – what you learn in history books and so on – but I had little idea of the massive role he played shaping America beyond the ‘did some stuff during the declaration of independence events’ and ‘a kite with a key to do something with lightning’ which you most often hear about.
The book itself was phenomenally put together and clearly Walter Isaacson put a ton of time in to researching the topic. Walter goes a step further and tries to bring out some of the ‘mysteries’ or more contentious parts of Franklin’s life – did he have affairs, was he a pragmatist at the cost of morality and higher ideals, did he avoid conflict at all costs – even when it may have been immoral to do so.
If you read this book you will walk away with a strong understanding of the events in Franklin’s life and his most notable contributions but you will also understand Franklin in relation to his time and culture – the start of public works like libraries, fire departments, citizen militias; the events which escalated and ultimately led to the US declaring independence from Great Britain; the significant impact Franklin made as a diplomat for America getting France to aid it’s separation & the way the support was achieved without committing America to disastrous long-term commitments. And, perhaps most importantly to Franklin, you’ll come away with a way of looking at the world with a hint of how Franklin did – with a constantly curious mind, interest in practical knowledge and seeking to better the human experience for all, and a realization that nothing is perfect and sometimes you have to take a breath and enjoy your time with friends, your relationships, tell jokes, and realize you can’t solve it all.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
By Stuart Turton | Mystery and Light Sci-Fi | 2018
Stuart Turton put together a very interesting mystery novel with a few really unique twists. I was particularly fond of how things wrapped up at the end but there were a few points in the book where I struggle. The novel is essentially a ‘who did the murder!?’ mystery with a few interesting elements. Without spoiling (hopefully) anything of importance, the day of the murder is retold from a variety of perspectives which, for me, made it a bit tiresome on occasion. That, coupled with what I found to be a rough start are my biggest criticisms of the book.
As the story progresses, minus some detail overload, I generally grew to like it more and more. A key plot device – a shifting narrative perspective & personality which gradually gains more knowledge – was really cool and probably the main thing I will take away from this read. The overall mystery elements felt really well done & a few of the twists were really clever. The ending felt a bit strange & abrupt but I think the ‘moral’, if you want to try to reduce it to that – perhaps ‘redemption’? -, was good and the overall story was great!
By Jeromy Robinson | Science Fiction | 2018
I rarely give books a bad rating but this book was not for me. It’s essentially a fusion of low comedy, Independence Day, and a battle royale conveyed in what I imagine is one of the worst medium for that story….if any medium is really appropriate for it?
Either way, I’m chalking this up to a difference in taste, the humor felt forced and really low-brow, the story seemed kind stupid and the overall arc felt forced & really predictable. Would not recommend, I might look to see if the author has any other less cringey seeming works as some of the writing felt pretty good and the characters had pretty distinct personalities.
36 Books That Changed the World
By The Great Courses | Lectures/Audio Course | 2012(?)
This is a ‘Great Courses’ course which I thought would be an interesting survey of some of the most influential books throughout history. The biggest letdown for me was that this was actually a compilation of lectures from other courses which had at least one lecture dedicated to each of these works. That, unfortunately, detracted from any sort of cohesive approach to the books or rationale for selection, etc.
All that being said, I thought this was a fantastic series of easy to listen to lectures. Almost all of them felt full of good details and structured well and the lecturers all seemed competent and like good presenters. There were a good number of books which I had never read which this definitely caused me to put on my reading list. They include:
- The Confessions
- The Divine Comedy
- Don Quixote
- Uncle Toms Cabin
- The Jungle
- One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Overall this lecture series was pretty good, learned a lot about the impact of these important works throughout history and definitely got some motivation to read more!
PlayStation Game | JRPG | 1997 & 2021
This is kind-of exciting. When I was a kid I remember playing this strange game called Saga Frontier that I never really understood, it had 8 characters and seemingly unrelated story lines even though the characters all had interactions with each other in their own stories. Additionally, the stories ranged from straightforward to completely open-ended and very confusing.
A friend of mine started doing some retro game playthroughs recently – very leisurely attempting some older games for fun and nostalgia. Either way, I got this game added to the list because I remember it being very weird but also captivating and quirky with a very complex system – multiple races with entirely different mechanics. So we ended up playing this a few months ago and it was pretty fun – I played the Robot main character (T260G) and he played the Monster class character (Riki) – there was a lot to like but also a lot which aged pretty poorly. We were then both pretty shocked to see Sony announced a remaster of the game for PC/Switch/PS4/etc which came out earlier this month.
Of course I ordered it just to see how things changed & if there was any more content/clarity to the stories and was very happily surprised. While the game still does you no favors in terms of explaining anything it did clean up a lot of dialogue, vastly improve the look of the game, gave a lot of quality of life changes (faster battle speeds, way better menus, exposed your stat numbers, weapon/accessory descriptions and more).
Overall, I really would recommend this to anyone who likes JRPGs to get a taste of how another almost entirely different system could work and could work well. I look forward to completing more storylines (completed Emelia’s & Asellus’s so far) and having fun with the New Game + mode (trying it on the next storyline!).
SNES Game | ARPG | 1995 SNES
This game was picked by my friend (in the same classic game series as the above ‘Saga Frontier’ entry) and I was really skeptical going in to it. This plays almost like a Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past game but brings some interesting mechanics (jumping!?) and has a cool collection of items and spells as well as a helpful leveling system.
While I think the game was very sparse in terms of NPCs, story, etc. it does stick to the story & gets ‘busier’ with people/story/items as the ‘world’ is being restored through your actions. Overall, I think this is a really cool game and held up to a modern playthrough really well despite being 27 years old!
TV Show| Sci-Fi | 2004 – 2010
As part of staying occupied through the pandemic I have been watching a lot of Sci-Fi with my roommate. BSG is a show I have not watched for a long time and which my roommate had never seen it before so we gave it a watch. I remember in the past being blown away at the continuously moving story & some of the characters. On re-watching I’m less impressed with the story – it feels like it has a little bit of the ‘Lost’ effect going on where I think they are dropping hints & clues and maybe not knowing or committing to how they get resolved later. However, I do think it holds up as very solid sci-fi and is fun to watch with some good actors & great effects, especially for the time.
TV Show| Fantasy/Horror | 2005 – 2020
I watched the first 7 or so seasons of this awhile back and then gave up and committed to watching as soon as the series ended. Now that it (finally) ended I was able to watch the rest and close out the story. On the whole I think about 2/3 of the seasons are pretty solid with good ‘overarching’ narrative arcs & some fun recurring characters. Definitely a lot of bad episodes & some stupid (imo) character development & trust issues which just go back and forth over the seaons but overall a fun watch. Very cool to see a show like this go on for as long as it did!
George Orwell Diaries
By George Orwell | Edited by Peter Davidson | Non-fiction / professional autobiographical | 2012
This was a new type of book for me. I’ve always liked the idea of keeping a journal or something like that to document major events or other things like that but have always felt a lack of coherent thoughts to put down in writing to actually do one. When I saw this listed online I decided to pick it up and see how his personal writings compared to his novels.
On the whole I enjoyed reading this. A large amount of it was domestic – about his garden & his interactions with neighbors and friends. There were also some significant sections early on as he traveled to visit lower-class workers which were good commentary on working conditions, there was also a good amount of material just prior to and during the first few years of WW2 which was also insightful.
There were two primary things which I took away from reading this. The first is the profound amount of observations Orwell made of the world around him. Almost every page contains some sort of observation – whether of a weird animal or comment on a news article – and I suspect his energies focused on observing the world helped shape his writing and his style quite dramatically. The second major take-away for me was how pedestrian much of the writings were. It wasn’t heady discourse on the state of things, recounting or documenting major events, or anything like that; it was noting how many eggs his chickens laid, to-do lists of things to do in the garden, moments of frustration with neighbors or the world. There were few entries which would lead you to think you were reading the words of a renowned thinker and writer.
I don’t think that is bad, I think it helps show that most of us have a largely shared common experience. It’s not that every word he wrote was to document the important, professionally relevant, or tied to some major political concerns; it’s more the opposite, he had concerns about finances, food, the necessities, and trying to live life.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
By Jung Chang| Non-fiction / Autobiography | 1991
This is a book recommended to me by my mom for a family book club and which I found to be exceptionally good. Wild Swans follows the life of 3 generations of women from a family in China from the early 1990s to the 80s. I knew a little about Mao, the Long March, the Cultural Revolution and related events from school but I had never before read a first-hand account. There were a number of scenes which, due to their first-person presentation I think, made them much more ‘potent’ than reading about in a history text. Some of these events – the process of feet binding, a son committing suicide in from of their father to protest a marriage, the expectation of loyalty to the Communist party, the violence against teachers by their students during the cultural revolution – are all the more potent for their individual accounts versus reading about them happening in aggregate or as a paragraph in some history.
One of the things which stuck out most to me in this book was the way in which China changes increasingly in to a world like that of Orwell’s 1984 and how there didn’t seem to be anything an individual could do to stop it. Jung Chang’s book was fantastic and I whole-heatedly recommend this to anyone with interests in China over the past century and how some of those events played out in their citizens lives.
Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome
By Venki Ramakrishnan | Non-fiction / professional autobiography | 2018
I know very little about biology. I’m not sure how this book even ended up in my audible account – presumably part of a two-for-one deal or something like that. Despite my ignorance on the topic Venki (a Nobel prize winner) was able to take me through the journey of his start in the sciences in the United States all the way through his life post-prize. He articulates the problems faced throughout his career of trying to understand the structure – initially of just parts of the ribosome – all the way through the understanding of the more complete picture of the ribosome.
The multi-decade endeavor highlighted the various challenges both technically and politically in science. From being pushed behind because you can’t get access to some limited equipment your competitors may have access to, the messy business of competing with peers to reach some goal as well as walking the fine line of the “ideal” that science is open and collaborative while also competing for resources, positions, recognition, and validation.
The book did get pretty technical at times however I think it is pretty intelligible by an audience either interested in science or with some prior knowledge, I plan to watch a YouTube video or two on the ribosome to make sense of some of the things which were over my head in audio form. Good book, well written, and fascinating to learn the story about the process of discovering the structure of the ribosome.
Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
By Neil Gaiman | Non-fiction / sorta biography | 2009
This will be a pretty easy write-up. Don’t Panic is, essentially, a biography of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which also happens to be a light biography of it’s creator, Douglas Adams. I found this to be a fun book as I fondly recall reading Hitchhikers a back between like 6th and 9th grades. Neil takes the reader through all the many incarnations of the story, the changes made for the different incarnations – from its start in radio to it’s eventual big-screen flop.
Neil’s writing is crisp and certainly references the style of Douglas Adams. He presents a lot of facts and stories about the in an entertaining way and, for me at least, renewed an interest in the writings. Beyond that there were a couple fun facts, I had no idea how much of a figure Adams was & the influence the guide had on people.
Overall this was a fine book IF you have read the Hitchhiker’s Guide before. If you have not, don’t read this.
The Four Loves
By C. S. Lewis | Non-fiction / Theology| 1960
This was a short work by C. S. Lewis which I was motivated to read after the Narnia series. Back in college I was a philosophy major and did a lot of readings on philosophical theology so this nicely scratched that itch.
The Four Loves is an attempt by Lewis to describe the four classically described types of ‘love’ in the world, how they can elevate the person/soul and how they can mislead you to jealous or other pitfalls, all from a Christian perspective. The four ‘loves’ are ‘Storge’ (pronounced ‘store’ + ‘gi’), Philia (brotherly love/friendship), Eros (erotic love), and Agape (divine love).
Without diving in to the merits or criticisms of the ideas, which I think were rather well reasoned (e.g. friendship can be one of the most selfless loves without expectation but it can also elevate the friends above others, promote a cliquishness, and lead to other negatives), I mostly wanted to focus on his articulation of the ideas. While there were clearly some things which would make this book not fly as well today due to the 1960s language, I think his ability to so briefly but directly try to describe and explore these ideas stands up today.
The most notable thing about this writing, to me, is how clearly he tries to articulate the ideas. It’s not deeply laden with terminology or biblical references. I think it’s accessible, thought provoking, and not muddled in layers of complexity which make it hard to digest. I was fond of it but it’s certainly something I would only recommend to people with certain interests (Philosphy, ethics, Lewis) or a religious audience with an interest.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
By Gabrielle Zevin | Novella | 2014
This was recommended by my sister for a family bookclub I’m in and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a short novel following the life of A. J. Fikry who is a bookstore owner who was recently widowed and in a downward spiral in life. To top that off a valuable book is stolen from his home & a child (~2 years old) dropped off in his store with no explanation. As it follows A. J.’s life we get a lot of interesting situations, fluid writing, and a very absorbing cast of characters.
While I wouldn’t put this in a ‘top’ list of mine, as I typically want a bit more range of experience/pacing in my favorites, but I will certainly be checking out future writings by Gabrielle Zevin and look forward to what I’ll find!
The Final Battle
By C.S. Lewis | Fantasy | 1956
I will say that I was taken completely off-guard by the ending of this final book. I think, while obviously strongly inspired by Christian imagery and themes, the story holds up and takes some daring steps to try to portray very conceptually challenging ideas in a way children would perhaps absorb something from them. As someone who grew up going to religious schools and things like that I am surprised I never heard more about the Narnia series apart from the original book I think the book made compelling things which teachers often made dull, abstract, or nonsensical.
Of all the books this might be my favorite simply because C. S. Lewis tries, I think very genuinely, to portray challenging topics and challenging religious themes and I think does a pretty good job at it.
As this is the last book in the series I think I’ll end with a general comment about the books. On average I found that I really enjoy Lewis’ writing style and think these works are duly popular and think the stories across all of them are are good mini-adventures which portray a magical world where you can be the hero while being real enough that there are consequences, death, misfortune, and the certainty that not everything stays the same. I look forward to reading Lewis’s more mature writings this year as I was surprised at how well these all flowed together and the topics he chose to tackle.
The Silver Chair
By C.S. Lewis | Fantasy | 1953
The silver chair felt a bit more like The Horse and His Boy in that it feels like a quest without quite the same level of ‘mystery’ or fantasy that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader provided with it. On the other hand, I did like the hook which started their journey and how it was in some ways a redemptive journey for some of the characters. Overall story I would put in the middle though some of the other case – like Puddleglum – were entertaining. Good writing throughout.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
By C.S. Lewis | Fantasy | 1952
I enjoyed this quite a lot, it mixed some good tropes – the reluctant hero, a redemption story, something akin to the labors of Heracles, etc. – with good yet terse writing. Also, unlike some of the others, it truly felt like the fantasy was ‘searching out in to the unknown’ and provided some clever, funny, and intricate scenes. Again, written for children, but still enjoyable and best-in-class for what it is.
By C.S. Lewis | Fantasy | 1951
I will say that one of the more notable parts of this series for me is how each book adds just enough to the world to make it interesting while still being brief on details. Comments much like the previous books except this feels perhaps a little more nuanced. I’m glad some of the original crew from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe returned. I also enjoyed how they are treating time across these books. I think the story was a bit stronger in this one than the past two I read.
The Horse and His Boy
By C. S. Lewis| Fantasy | 1954
This is the third book in the Narnia series which I have read. It was quite a bit different than the first one and painted a much different world where Narnia exists. Nothing too interesting, well written & clear general morality tale advocating personal responsibility the need to strive for things greater than oneself a simple painting of good vs evil and escaping from unjust oppression. Nothing too notable off-hand about it, probably would have liked the series much more if i read it at a young age.
The Magician’s Nephew
By C. S. Lewis| Fantasy | 1955
This is the second book in the Narnia series which I have read. Starkly different than the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in that it was based, ostensibly, at the founding of Narnia and showed a totally different world. The story felt short and a bit aimless apart from providing some nice background to ‘how’ Narnia came to be accessible and setting building blocks to, I hope, enrich subsequent stories.
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
Game Arts / Working Designs| RPG | PS1 | 1996
Lunar is a game I played as a kid – probably in 7th-8th grade – and which I remembered fondly. When one of my friends said they were going to start doing some classic game playthroughs I was quick to pressure him in to including this – if only as an excuse to replay and have someone to chat about it with.
I would say I still love the story – simple hero questing to save his love – but also notable in the way the story unfolds with great pacing, some difficult early situations, and amazing character development. I forgot how much the dialogue of all the NPCs change with every minor story progression and there were some outstanding lines, 4th wall breaking comments, and silly jokes throughout. I also find it notable in that it is one of the few games where people acknowledge your strength and role – at first people seeing you as naive but later as their only hope to survive. There’s a point at the end where a shop is even like “you’re pretty much our only hope, take whatever you need for free”. That, mixed with many other subtle moments made the game rewarding for me to replay.
Some not-so-great parts include a rather dull battle system. It starts out, I think, but within the first 30-50% of the game there’s a clear ‘these are the right moves, these are the wrong moves’ and it gets very repetitive. The equipment, while well balanced doesn’t seem to have much to it beyond ‘equip the strongest item always except that one dungeon’ which is a bit disappointing as I loved so many other parts of the game.
The voice acting was also pretty extensive – especially for a psx game of that time – and I think it was pretty well done, the characters all seemed relatively consistent and while some are not voices I personally loved for the characters they did seem to care that they were recorded well I have no real complaints no that front. The dragon voices were great imo.